The New Apple TV: Dumb, and Lovely For It

Last Updated Sep 1, 2010 3:48 PM EDT

Today I argued that Samsung's push for "TV apps" was a colossal and tragic misunderstanding of consumer behavior. The new iteration of Apple's (AAPL) AppleTV, announced today, puts Samsung's haplessness in very stark relief.

Here's the opening menu for the new AppleTV. Far from being a dashboard-like welter of apps, it's actually even simpler than a Sony (SNE) PlayStation:


Count 'em: five tabs. Everything that might clutter up a Samsung smart TV -- shortcuts to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (GOOG), whatever -- aren't there. If you want that stuff from the AppleTV, you go to "internet," but it's doubtful you'll even do that, because if you own this thing, you probably have an iPhone, Android phone or Blackberry (RIMM) on your person. (Below, Samsung's app-crazy smart TV.)


One of the most stultifying things about the Samsung idea -- packing the screen with app icons -- is how little care it shows for the actual content you're trying to watch. Instead of sorting your media by type, or medium, or even title, the way that Apple does, Samsung's "app" approach basically splits content up into channels like Hulu or Netflix (NFLX). This isn't any better than the way cable TV does it; and if it's not making TV easier, it's useless.

Apple's UI reinforces many of our intuitions that TVs and video boxes need to be getting simpler, because they're overly-complex already. The cellular phone, by contrast, was in desperate need of more sophistication when the iPhone came along. As I wrote earlier:

... [A]pps are killer on smartphones because smartphones are good at versaility. They go everywhere, fit everywhere, do everything; they can hear, "see", sense changes in orientation and speed, track by GPS, and act generally as the Swiss Army knives of modern existence.
TVs simply work best as big, dumb screens that can simply play, stream and record. The rest should be left to the gaggle of better devices we have laying around.

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